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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Yankees' chances depend on Brian Cashman's pitching arm

Yankees general Manager Brian Cashman holds a press

Yankees general Manager Brian Cashman holds a press conference at Yankee stadium where he discussed the state of the team. (Oct 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

You know that moment when you return from vacation and something happens that smacks you in the face with the unmistakable message that it's time to get back to reality?

Maybe it's the horrible traffic from the airport. Or the way those loose tiles fell off the roof while you were gone and now are sitting in the driveway. Or perhaps the cat left a few hairballs on the sofa for you to find.

The Yankees had two of those moments Friday as they reconvened in the Bronx for the second half, which began with a 4-3 win over the Reds.

Masahiro Tanaka talked about still feeling pain in his elbow. Then Brian Cashman ambled onto the field to tell reporters that CC Sabathia's season is over because of knee surgery.

All-Star break? Over. Done. Welcome back to your (battered, bruised) 2014 Yankees.

Another bite from the reality sandwich: Yankees fans can't hold their breath waiting for Tanaka or Sabathia or Michael Pineda to return to action.

Maybe Tanaka will, or maybe he'll need Tommy John surgery. Maybe Pineda will, and Cashman sounded optimistic about an August return, but who wants to count on the pine tar king?

No, the most important body parts for the Yankees aren't Tanaka's elbow or Pineda's shoulder. They are Cashman's dialing and texting fingers and Hal Steinbrenner's right hand.

You know, the one that writes the checks.

The Yankees' only hope to make the playoffs is for Cashman to wheel and deal them into October. And without mega-prospects to offer, he will have to use the Yankees' financial might to improve a team that could finish with a worse record than (gasp!) the Mets.

Yes, Cliff Lee, that means we're looking at you. And so will, we assume, a cadre of Yankees scouts on Monday when he makes his first start in two months after an elbow injury.

Can the Yankees pry Lee from the Phillies? We'll give you 43 million reasons why they can. That's roughly how many dollars he is guaranteed between today and the end of next year (including a 2016 buyout).

The Yankees have tried to acquire or sign Lee so many times in the past few years, it feels as if YES should have a Yankeeography in the can for him.

But they have coveted Lee for good reason -- when he's healthy, he's as good a pitcher as there is in baseball.

Word out of Philadelphia is the Phillies are willing to deal another starter, too. Cole Hamels? No, sorry. A.J. Burnett.

The Yankees probably will pass on that reunion. But who knows? Teams with .500 records, like the Yankees entering Friday night, can't be picky.

The Yankees don't need just one starter, of course. One look at their postbreak rotation reveals that. David Phelps. Brandon McCarthy. Hiroki Kuroda. Shane Greene. Chase Whitley.

Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs? Not with that bunch. Cashman knows that.

"I would say, forgetting the [July 31] trade deadline, trying to acquire starting pitching, starting depth, is important. Period," said Cashman, who is in the final year of his contract but is expected to be re-signed without much fuss. "Whether it's tomorrow or by the deadline or even after the deadline."

So Cashman has to get creative -- Bartolo Colon? Ian Kennedy? David Price? Beg Andy Pettitte to un-retire? -- and Steinbrenner has to sign off on adding even more payroll.

There simply isn't another way unless the Yankees want Derek Jeter's final season to end the same way Mariano Rivera's final season did.

Before October. Before another Yankees legend is ready to begin his permanent vacation.


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